Third Sunday of Easte
John's Gospel, ‘written so that we may believe,’ continually offers us new insights so that we may see the risen Jesus present and revealing himself to us today. All this, so that we too will witness to him rather than be spectators. Elsewhere, in John’s Gospel, we are confronted with an invitation to ‘Come and see,’ to find where he abides. Jesus is constantly revealing himself to us in ever new ways. He comes to the shores of our everyday lives as to the disciples today. He comes to particular people: the poor, women, the vulnerable as well as those who betrayed him. He comes without waiting for us to come to him. Last week the disciples were locked up in a room out of fear and were given the Spirit of peace so that they could exhale justice and love and recognise Jesus in their streets. Today, the disciples are offered renewal with overwhelming generosity whilst fishing. This love and generosity enabled them to take responsibility for what they had seen and heard.
A former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein) spoke of the 'dangerous silence' among world leaders in the face of human rights violations. We have witnessed this silence as asylum seekers, unemployed people, people with disabilities were vilified. We witnessed this silence as Rodrigo Duterte’s policies of murder, rape and imprisonment went unchallenged. In the face of this there are ‘resurrection moments’ as people in the Philippines, Ukraine, Myanmar, Latin America, Australia and the USA say no to the abuse of power and act to transform their part of the world.
For them resurrection is not an idea or metaphor but as Fr. Eamonn Bredin writing about the early Christians says, ‘……. the resurrection was not a dogma to be believed but a daring, decisive, power-filled call to live as Jesus lived.’ For them resurrection had hands, feet and hearts. It is about staying near Jesus to be close his heart, listening to his words, and look out to the world. As followers of Jesus, even in the face of hatred and violence, we are called to embody a culture of healing and transformation and a commitment to pursue justice and practice love. Jesus’ resurrection calls us to do things differently. It is not an abstract idea but about flesh, bones and wounds. It is about real faces and bodies. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, ‘if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom……..and by showing a real sympathy that springs, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking is not Christian behaviour. The Christian is called to sympathy and action………by the sufferings of his brethren(sic), for whose sake Christ suffered’ (in Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy). The wounds of the world call out to us for presence and compassion and liberation. The ongoing challenge is for the church, if it is to be authentic, to make those who are silenced, dispossessed, marginalised as foundational in its life and action. It is from the places of pain, suffering, dispossession, and powerlessness that the Spirit emerges calling for truth, justice, healing, and liberation. In the face of hatred and violence we are called to pursue a ‘revolution of tenderness’ by embodying a culture of encounter that leads to healing and transformation.
Commentators such as Noam Chomsky suggest that we are entering the most dangerous period in human history. The food and fuel crises are pushing millions of people in deeper poverty and hunger. The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we could have three years to remedy possible climate disaster. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian crisis with more people being forced to migrate as the world’s refugee crisis hits new highs. The world is compounded by hatred, violence, authoritarianism and injustices with endless violence and dispossession.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles audaciously challenge contemporary religious and political powers with an alternative worldview based on repentance, forgiveness, and love. According to Luke, persecution turned frightened people into fearless apostles. The beatings, humiliations, and intimidation by the authorities made them resolute and steadfast in becoming martyrs. Their witness to the resurrection makes the ‘acts of the apostles’ a revolutionary text. They knew speaking the truth would result in imprisonment and possible death. Little has changed for many people today. As Peter rebuked the temple authorities ‘you had killed by hanging him on tree’ (Acts 5:30), this Jesus is still wounded and killed as people respond to the cries of the poor and the cry of earth. Persecuted, beaten, and arrested, they were despised and scorned in encountering the force of the religious and political authorities. When set free, they were again told, ’Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life’ (Acts 5:19). Those who are set free ought to go out and proclaim the truth and freedom despite the cost. Security and safety were no longer a priority, they refused to be seduced by power, to transmit the deeply subversive and unsettling liberating message of Jesus resurrection. As locked doors could not prevent Jesus entering a room, prison bars were also ineffective in containing the message of resurrection that challenged the dominant powers who were concerned with order and self-preservation. They had even neglected the torah’s call to do justice and mercy.
The apostles became witnesses (’martyrs’) rather than spectators. Believing and living were now aligned for them. The world’s ways are so radically challenged by Jesus that he was hated, and the disciples knew that they would arouse similar hatred and persecution. For Jesus love is the only source of strength that can withstand hatred and offer peace. Intimacy with Jesus means seeing the world through the lens of justice, peace, and love, which perpetrators of injustice cannot abide. They do not like it when people call for peace with justice and nonviolence. They do not like it when their treatment of women, LGBTIQ+ people is questioned. They do not like it when their treatment of Indigenous people around the world is challenged. Speaking truth infuriated liars. Jesus was hated for practising love, justice, and compassion. So too, will his followers when they make choices contrary to mainstream values that have no space for love and justice. In the face of hatred and violence, we are called to embody a culture of healing and transformation. The church standing in the tradition of the apostles ought to reclaim its identity, integrity, and fortitude, and shape a community in which friendship, inclusion and peace may prevail.
The scriptures are full of stories about failure, betrayal, their acknowledgment, and generous forgiveness. These stories are about us, and our need to practice resurrection, and do life differently with Jesus amongst us saying, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ The gathering by the shore in today’s gospel is a call to try again (‘fish’ again) for a new and inclusive humanity [cf. 153 fish] that includes all people: the Afghan, the Syrian, the Tamil, the Muslim, the homeless, the gay and lesbian.
As the gospel overshadows our lives, Jesus stands amongst us saying ‘try it my way’ in the face of hurt, suffering, violence, etc ….. ’try it my way’ with non-violence, ’try it my way’ with forgiveness, ’try it my way’ with compassion and generosity. ‘Try it my way’ and do not become like the one you hate.
Jesus has introduced something new into the disciples’ routine. They change their routine to try something different, and then recognise Jesus in their midst. Only when they are open to something (and someone) new do they realise that Jesus is in their midst. What can we do differently? It can seem an endless process but today’s reading from Revelation presents us with a kind of a peek-hole into ‘heaven’ that enables us to see that more is going on than what seems to be happening on earth. God's work may not be immediately apparent, but we can trust that things are happening though not always clear. Like Peter, we are commissioned to ‘feed’ and ‘nourish’ people, not humiliate them, which has been the message of Pope Francis. Next week Jesus will affirm that he is the Good Shepherd. He knows us and assures that we can hear his voice despite the cacophony of voices that bombard us daily is we stay close. Some voices speak the truth and offer hope. Others, despite good intentions, speak partial truths. Others again, distort the truth as in the political and ecclesiastical arena. They can be forceful and seductive. The disciples, when they found their courage again, were able to defy the authorities of the because they had listened to the voice of the Shepherd, heard that they were loved and were prepared to try ‘his way’ which contradicts contemporary laws and practices that abuse people, result in violence to deal with problems, diminish people’s dignity, and abuse the vulnerable. Jesus calls and sends us to raise our voices and insist the voice of God upholds life and respects the rights and dignity of each person.